PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION.

Two years ago, a terrific book looked at the Oscar process circa 1967. PICTURES AT A REVOLTION: FIVE MOVIES AND THE BIRTH OF A NEW HOLLYWOOD (Mark Harris) examined the five pictures nominated that year, the history of their production, the directors, actors and producers involved in the film, and the politics of the country and Hollywood at the time. Some of these movies were developed quickly and others, like Bonnie and Clyde took years to work their way onto the screen and the history of each is fascinating.

What made the five pictures especially interesting was how they harkened back to traditional Hollywood films from an earlier period with Doctor Doolittle and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (despite its interracial theme, it is in every way standard treatment of such, and stars two Hollywood stalwarts), looked forward to the seventies with The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde, and marked time with In the Heat of the Night. Harris meticulously recounts each film’s history and how it reflected the ambivalence of Hollywood and America in the mid-sixties. The Vietnam War was in high gear and Americans are undecided on where their values and priorities lay. Having been there, I cannot describe how shocking the violence in Bonnie and Clyde was at the time. But also thrilling. And a romance between a twenty year old man and a forty year old woman was also a surprise in The Graduate. (Even if a mere five years or so separated the actors).

Especially interesting is the story of Sidney Portier, starring in two of the five films, Harris recounts his disgust over being repeatedly hired to play a black man that a white audience would not fell threatened by. He never was allowed to play a person of nuance—much less an out and out villain. Because of this, his performances seem more tepid than they might have had he been allowed to play a real person.

Of course, the film to triumph in 1967 was the one in the middle: In the Heat of the Night. I leave you to decide if that was the best choice.

Patti